Apple Store designer proposes restoring Notre-Dame as… basically an Apple Store

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Eight Inc, the design firm best known for conceptualizing the Apple Store and the now-iconic giant glass cube on 5th Ave in New York, has proposed to restore Notre-Dame’s sadly destroyed roof and spire — with a giant glass roof and spire. I don’t think the French will go for it.

The idea is to recreate the top of the building entirely out of structural glass, which is stronger than normal glass and thus could support itself without any internal framework.

It’s hard to know what to make of the proposal. It seems to me so inappropriate that it borders on parody. Leaving aside the practical concerns of keeping the glass clean and replacing any portion that’s cracked or something, the very idea of capping a gothic cathedral made almost entirely of stone with a giant sunroof seems like the exact opposite of what the church’s creators would have wanted.

Tim Kobe, founder of Eight, disagrees.

“I believe this definitive example of French gothic architecture requires a deep respect and appreciation of the history and intent of the original design,” he told Dezeen. “It should not be about the ego of a new architectural expression but a solution to honor this historic structure.”

I find that statement, especially the part about ego of new architectural expression, a little difficult to swallow when the proposal is to rebuild a nearly thousand-year-old cathedral in the style of an Apple Store.

He called the glass roof and spire “spiritual and luminous,” saying they evoked “the impermanence of architecture and the impermanence of life.”

That seems an odd thing to strive for. I’m not a religious person, but I as I understand it the entire idea of a cathedral is to create a permanent, solid representation of the very permanent presence of God and His everlasting kingdom of heaven. Life is fleeting, sure, but giant stone cathedrals that have outlasted empires seem a poor mascot for that fact.

Of course, it must be said that this wouldn’t be the only garish glass structure in the city that traditionalists would hate: The pyramid at the Louvre has attracted great ire for many years now. And it’s much smaller.

The French Senate (and many others) have expressed that they would like the cathedral to be restored to as close to its original state as possible — preferably with something better than centuries-old dry tinder holding up the roof. But President Macron has called for something more than simple reconstruction, and Prime Minister Philippe backs him, especially concerning the spire, which was a relatively late addition and as such isn’t quite as historic as the rest.

A design competition is to be held to create a new spire “adapted to the techniques and the challenges of our era,” which certainly could mean many things and inspire many interesting ideas. Here’s hoping they’re a little better than this one.